When two unattended sailboats in Silver
Lake became unmoored early Oct. 24 and careened into the docks at the
Anchorage Marina, it illustrated the concerns the Ocracoke Waterways
Commission has about the harbor.
An advancing front brought 30- to
50-mph winds overnight and kept Mark Brown awake on his boat that’s
docked near Down Creek Gallery.
“I didn’t sleep at all, and every 20
minutes had to readjust my fenders,” he said. “Then I looked out the
rear and saw this phantom white line go by.”
That white line was an anchored sailboat that had become unmoored and was heading for the Anchorage Marina docks.
“It hit a motor boat and I called the
Coast Guard,” Brown said. Soon, another sailboat was loose and also
headed for the same docks. “It was wild.”
Later, both boats, which have absent owners, were tied up at the NPS docks, and one of those boats has since sunk.
These unattended boats are one of
several issues the Ocracoke Waterways Commission will tackle, said Tom
Pahl, Ocracoke’s county commissioner who proposed the commission which
Hyde County approved.
The various agencies that regulate the
nation’s waterways overlap in their oversight of the harbor and the two
inlets that serve the island.
While the Coast Guard enforces federal
boating regulations, N.C. Fish and Wildlife officers enforce state
regulations, such as having enough life preservers or proper lights;
they can approach only boats that are underway.
“The weak link is when they drop anchor,” Pahl said.
A number of full- and part-time island
residents live on boats in the harbor, which may take up space for
boating cruisers who want to visit the island and continue on.
“If all we have out there is anchorage
like floating motel rooms for part-time residents and no room for
cruisers… we have to find a balance,” Pahl said.
All boats anchored in the harbor must
lights at night and they need to properly dispose of waste. How long can
boats be at anchor unattended? It’s unclear who enforces these
regulations and how to deal with boats that become unmoored. Anchorage
Marina personnel secured the unmoored boats in October.
“There are way more questions than answers,” he said. (See a related story published in December 2014 here and an editorial here.)
Fortunately, one of the issues the
commission is concerned with—Big Foot Slough—the ferry channel about a
mile west of the south end of the island, will get needed dredging this
winter, sometime in late January or February.
Commission members learned this at the
Oct. 16 meeting in the Community Center during a conference call with
Jim Medlock, the draft navigation program project manager for the Army
Corps of Engineers (ACE), Wilmington.
Two weeks before that meeting, the Sea
Level ferry bumped ground coming through Big Foot on the 4:30 p.m. run
from Swan Quarter, causing her to be taken out of service the next day
for repairs, Pahl said.
A big issue the island has wrestled
with for the last several years–shortening the ferry crossing between
Hatteras and Ocracoke islands—was the focus of the November 20 commission meeting.
“We’re going to develop a strategy to
come up with a way to get people through that channel more quickly,”
Pahl said, noting that N.C. Ferry Division Director Harold Thomas said
if we could shave 10 minutes off the current route, more ferries could
make trips back and forth.
To that end, among the officials the
commission has invited is Roger Bullock, chief of navigation for the
ACE, who had attended the Ferry Division meeting on the island in April
to discuss the shoaling problems in the Hatteras Inlet.
Also at the Oct. 16 meeting, Steve
Coulter, a boat captain out of Hatteras who is a member of the Dare
County Waterways Commission, advised the Ocracoke group that they need
to educate themselves on all of the various state and federal
regulations and players, Pahl said.
Coulter said state and federal bureaucracies do not move quickly and that commission members will need tenacity and patience.
“His advice was invaluable,” Pahl said.